The Way Home Was // by Casey R. (October 2017)

“Doodle bug, doodle bug, come out of your hole,” my mom whispered, her face inches from the dime-sized cylindrical burrow on the dusty barn floor. I whispered too, and the dust stirred and tickled my nose. No doodle bug awoke and came to the surface to answer, but I knew the twitching grains held a stirring bug beneath them.
The sky was as blue as an August day could offer, like cotton candy or a blue raspberry lollipop. The heat of a late Tennessee summer was stifling and sticky, but the cheerful breeze refused to let my spirits melt. At seven years old, it was no matter to me where my shoes were planted as long as my imagination followed where they went (that is, if I was even wearing the hateful, restrictive things). Creativity was like my shadow cast by the burning sun, and the light of my imagination had known nothing of letting itself set behind the horizon. A violet butterfly earned itself a name and a voice. The open hallway of the weathered, blackened-wood barn held the ghost whinnies and whispers of the horses and cowgirls that I imagined must have once taken shelter in its shade. The shimmering creek that came and left from nowhere hid secrets too wondrous to ever be divulged to ungrateful ears.
It was quiet in the mountainous, East Tennessee countryside, save for the carefree chirps of the birds and the easy breath of the breeze.
It was loud in a seven-year-old’s mind, save for the mysteries that waited with bated breath.
The minnows in the creek, determined to reach their destinations, fought against the rushing current with the stubbornness and stamina of any soldier. I imagined what it would be like to climb onto one of their sleek, scaly backs, using its dorsal fin as the reins, and find out where the water would take us.
The mud in the creek bed was being baked by earth’s oven, and it greeted all its visitors with the foul odor of the dirt and algae and swamp monsters within it. It squished through my bare toes, and I imagined what it would be like to sink up to my chin in the sticky glob.
The plush grass was like a green carpet to cushion my feet, luxuriously soft and thick. I longed to shrink down and explore the large front yard’s grass and dandelion forests like a jungle.
In this realm of quiet wonder, my heart could not be bothered by the distance from the city with its skyscrapers and blinking traffic lights. I only fell in love with the world beyond asphalt and telephone wires – a world where trees waved from above and fireflies lit up the night…

The sky is blue. The grass is green. The creek flows and the wind blows and the birds never stop chattering. The sun is hot – too hot for a person to have to endure. Sixteen-year-old me groans at the thought of stepping outside of my air-conditioned living room and trudging through heat and insects and animals. Another scoop of cat food, another soggy pair of flip flops, another day bombarded by the same wet ground, the same bare soil, the same smelly creek, the same weather-worn barn. Another day void of passion.
Dry pellets clink against the metal bowl and the two cats almost trip me to reach it. A dog barks and approaches me, drooling and smelling and invading my personal space, and I roll my eyes. A grasshopper springs mechanically across my feet, and I almost scream in fright. And I go back inside, shutting the door against the nature I no longer adore.
I glare out the window at the same maple tree that we’ve watched cast its shadow on our front yard for the past nine years. It’s been too long since I’ve appreciated the life teeming within that ancient relic of Union County. That much time in the depths of isolated hillbilly country can do that to a person who lacks an imagination.
It’s loud in the hills of East Tennessee.
It’s quiet in a sixteen-year-old’s mind.
Home was once a place where the heart and mind became one, a place where innocence and imagination were a driving force behind every thought and every action. In a world governed by practicality, the absence of a child-like sense of wonder is startling. We’re awoken by alarms each morning rather than excitement, we follow a routine laid out by necessity, we don’t complain about going to bed, and then we do it all again. We live in a world ruled by people who no longer appreciate it. I wonder how people could stray so far…I imagine what would happen if we didn’t.